Helping every man become a better man with the Fatherhood Connection
By Gabrielle L. Wheeler
How do we learn to become the people that we are as adults? Who guides us and what does that guidance look like? For children, we hope the first teachers are the parents. However, reality doesn’t always mirror ideals and many challenges present with the common occurrence of split homes and absent parents. What, then, is the ultimate outcome for a child growing into an adult without that support behind him? Luckily, spreading across New York state, the Fatherhood Connection is opening space up for men to reconnect and reengage by identifying the “father hunger” and encouraging every man to become a better man.
The Fatherhood Connection is a 13-week support group for any man who wishes to embark on a path of personal growth. During these 13 weeks, men learn how to fill the “father hunger,” or the desire they have to connect with the father figures in their lives. “One of the things that we realized is that America is a fatherless nation,” says Reginald “Reggie” Cox, founder and executive director of the Fatherhood Connection. “There used to be a time when you would normally include the father in the home, but now you could almost NOT include him in the home…The Fatherhood Connection is designed to build up the role of the father.”
The Fatherhood Connection began in 2010 when Cox realized that he harbored his own wounds from growing up with a father who was physically present but emotionally absent due to substance abuse. As an adult, Cox himself fell into the generational cycle of alcoholism but eventually broke free, as did his father. “I realized that my woundedness, my hurt, my misery, actually became my ministry,” he says. “I realized that there were a lot of other Reggies out there that were hurting; and lonely for the affirmation, the approval and the celebration of a father figure.”
At first, Cox, a pastor and father of 10, worked part-time with the Family Resource Centers in Rochester to bring healing and reconnection to men in Monroe County. However, he began to feel like there was more need and so connected with the New York State Office of Children and Family Services. This led to a branching out of the program into Regions 1, 2, and 3 to work with foster care preventative services and caseworkers through the Department of Social Services. More recently, Cox decided to spread out independently to offer additional support groups. The Fatherhood Connection is also currently partnering up with Parent to Parent of New York State to assist men with children with special needs across the entire state.
“Our children need dads to step up to the plate and model integrity, humility, grace, and love.”
~James Manchester, co-facilitator of Yates County Fatherhood Connection
Feeding the Father Hunger
The Fatherhood Connection leads adult support groups for men, as well as a youth program called Boyz 2 Men for youth ages 13-21. Cox says some of these young men are already fathers themselves, but all “are seeking to walk into manhood.” Topics covered include healthy relationships, bullying, responsibility, and dealing with anger, among others. “We try to do more of a prevention role as it relates to young men, growing young men instead of getting to be a father. When you are still a little kid, that’s going to impact everything: the choices, the relationships, and your own children if you are a father at a young age,” says Cox.
The adult program is for any man wishing to connect with family, learn, and embark on a path of self-discovery, whether he is a father or not. Cox says the program starts off “dealing with your boyhood. Like, ‘What was your boyhood like?’ We talk about areas of either the lack of nurturing, or if the father was there, what things would you keep, toss, or add?” From there, it progresses across the topics of relationships, domestic violence, substance abuse, discipline vs. punishment, anger management, and communication.
Giving a certificate of completion at the end, the program is recognized by the courts in most of the seven counties the Fatherhood Connection works in as an effective parenting program for offenders of domestic violence. However, stigma should not deter others looking to better their relationship with themselves or their families. James Manchester, co-facilitator of the Yates County Fatherhood Connection, joined the program in 2015. “A group of local men were getting together to discuss the possibility of a program to help men become better men. At this point it wasn’t necessarily The Fatherhood Connection. It wasn’t until April of the following year, when we went to the Seneca County Fatherhood Connection graduation and met Reggie Cox that we bought in 100% to The Fatherhood Connection,” he says. Manchester became a co-facilitator upon identifying the need for administrative help but has since gone through the program five times and begun to lead sessions. “I have seen so much positive change in a lot of men. Guys that felt they didn’t have a voice, and those that knew they had one [and] had no idea how to use it in the appropriate ways, these men are learning how to effectively communicate with their families in a positive manner.”
What it’s Like at the Fatherhood Connection
For anyone curious about what a typical Fatherhood Connection session would be like, both Cox and Manchester have one word that can tempt any man: food. Yes, dinner is always served at a meeting. And it’s free.
Then, after everyone has had a fine meal, the program begins. At the first session, confidentiality is addressed, as well as vulnerability and transparency. Cox says, “As the facilitator, I really have to be transparent enough and vulnerable enough to talk about my own issues so that other fathers really are able to sense the genuineness and the integrity of the program. And once that is done, other guys then begin to step up and they chime in and they talk about their own vulnerability and transparency. And before you know it, guys really realize they’re not alone with some of their struggles and some of their challenges.”
In the following sessions, each meeting is opened with participants sharing a learning moment from their week. Both Cox and Manchester state that if a participant is hesitant to put forth information, they don’t push. However, both facilitators find that most men eventually open up and find refuge in the group. Each week, a new topic is explored, giving men the opportunity to ask questions and share their own experiences. The 13-week program concludes with a graduation celebration.
For more information about the Fatherhood Connection, to find a program in your county, book Reginald Cox for a speaking engagement, or to find out how you can become involved, please contact Mr. Cox at: